Most people want to be first at many things. Filipino congressmen apparently are no exception.
On Monday, the first official working day of the 16th Congress, staff members of new and returning lawmakers lined up as early as the crack of dawn to be first to file House measures on their bosses’ behalf.
They were all beaten, however, by a member of second-term Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon’s staff who had staked his claim to the front of the line way back on May 14, right after Biazon was proclaimed the winner of the Muntinlupa congressional race. Other lawmakers’ staff also took their early places in the line.
Biazon’s staffer, Edwin Hayahay, his political officer, filed the first bill of the new Congress—the National Defense and Security Act—in behalf of his boss who is abroad.
The measure would consolidate government efforts in tackling national security issues. It seeks to provide the mechanism for coordination among government agencies in addressing the multidimensional facets of the country’s defense and security.
Multitude of issues
Other bills filed by other early bird representatives covered a multitude of issues, including one prohibiting political dynasties, another opposed to Charter Change, one promoting freedom of information and government transparency, and measures increasing wages, reforming the nursing law, granting benefits to centenarians, increasing companies’ corporate social responsibility and pushing mining reforms.
Hayahay filed the first five bills and first two resolutions of the 16th Congress.
The other bills he filed for Biazon would require additional qualifications for the secretary of national defense; put in place articles of military justice; create the National Transportation Safety Board, and modernize the Bureau of Customs.
His No. 1 resolution seeks an inquiry into revised modernization plan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), while the second resolution seeks an investigation of the AFP’s pension system.
First filed, first read
But why do lawmakers race to be the first to file bills?
Measures filed early would be first to be tackled on the House floor and referred to the committees, explained House Secretary General Marilyn Barua-Yap.
“First filed, first read and referred to committees, first on the committee agenda,” she said.
This presumably gives a bill a greater chance of being passed, although it is by no means a guarantee, according to the staff members.
Most of those who filed bills were congressional staffers, but several representatives also showed up, including Anakpawis party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who both arrived early to file their measures.
The bills they filed included an anti-Charter Change bill, a measure to reorient the mining industry bill, a measure regulating the downstream petroleum industry, the long-demanded P125 across-the-board wage increase for workers, and a resolution to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.
Freshman Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo also filed her first bill—a full disclosure measure that would require all government agencies to disclose their budgets and financial transactions even without a request from the public.
Robredo said in a statement that her bill stemmed from a memorandum circular issued by her late husband, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, which had ordered local government units and Department of Interior and Local Government regional offices to report on their finances, bidding activities and public offerings.
Albay Rep. Edcel “Grex” Lagman’s first measure was the centenarians bill, which would provide a bonus, discounts and other benefits to Filipinos who manage to live to 100 and more. It was a measure authored by his father and namesake in the 15th Congress, which passed it but it was vetoed by President Aquino.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a second-term Pampanga representative, also sent a staff member to file her priority measures.
Arroyo’s top bills
The bills on top of her list would encourage corporate social responsibility and grant a juridical personality to Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC), where she is currently detained on plunder charges.
Arroyo coauthored the two measures with her son, Camarines Sur Rep. Dato Arroyo. Both bills were actually filed in the 15th Congress but did not become law.
The former president turned congresswoman, meanwhile, took her oath of office as Pampanga’s second district representative before a notary public at VMMC, according to her new chief of staff, lawyer Raul Lambino.
Lambino said the event was witnessed by Arroyo’s husband, former first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, her former chief of staff, Elena Bautista Horn, and some of her constituents from Pampanga.
Despite being detained at the hospital for the entire duration of the last election campaign, Arroyo trounced her rival in the district.